CHRISTMASTIDE (January 1, 2017)

December 20, 2016 | by Ignacio Castuera

Reading 1 Reading 2 Reading 3 Reading 4 Reading 1 Alt Reading 2 Alt
Isaiah 63:7-9 Psam 148 Hebrews 2:10-18 Matthew 2:13-23

As we begin the new calendar year it is most providential that the texts for this Sunday remind us of the very realistic perspective the Scriptures have as opposed to the “merry” moments of the commercialized season.

Only a week (and in the Roman Catholic Calendar, only three days after Christmas) we have Matthew writing about the slaughter of the children by the forces of Herod. Coventry Carol is a musical piece that preachers can suggest to their choirs (or a small quartet) to sing during the service. The powerful music and lyrics of this piece are a stark reminder of the sad realities that confronted the Holy Family and continue to face many families today.

The themes of forced migration and ecological care converge powerfully in the texts for this Sunday and the timing, 19 days before the Presidential inauguration, could not be more providential. The Psalm, written by pre-modern “indigenous” sages, clearly see all creation as filled with life and capacity for praise. Nature is not presented as inert matter but as alive just as most indigenous teachers in many lands have argued. This “animistic” point of view needs to be incorporated into our contemporary proclamation. At the same time one needs to indicate that attacks on nature are intimately linked to devaluation of animal and human lives.

The forced migration of the Holy Family to Egypt can and must be connected to the forced migration that has brought millions of people to this country. Programs like NAFTA caused high unemployment in Mexico, wars in El Salvador and Nicaragua supported by previous US regimes, and many other policies have caused the forced migration to this country and now these migrants are threatened with probable deportation in the first year of the Trump era. The Dreamers program which allows young people who came into the country with their parents to pursue higher education may also disappear and the Dreamers might be facing the nightmare of being “returned” to countries where they have few if any connections and where they might face even greater dangers.

The writers of our Scriptures were teachers, prophets and poets and preachers must point out that the Greek word for “creating” or making that most of the writers of the New Testament was “poet” so that when Genesis talks about God’s creative act it states that in the beginning God acted as a poet, a fashioner, a creative force. The poetry of the Bible and the poetry of many of the great bards of most cultures concur in seeing the nature alive and we need to protect the living nature and the vulnerable beings that depend on it. What is often lost when one reads great poetry is the science behind it. The Romantics were under the influence of scientists like Alexander von Humboldt and reading his descriptions of nature one cannot escape the poetic nature of what he is writing. Goethe and Schiller were both poets and scientist and understood nature to be an organism, a threatened organism. Henry David Thoreau was deeply influenced by the scientific writings of Humbold and his poetry is filled with references to a living, teeming environment that needed to be held in awe and appreciated.

As pastors plan their preaching for 2017 the defense of nature and care for the vulnerable must be the core around which all preaching needs to gravitate. John B Cobb Jr. wrote that to be a Christian today means to be an “earthiest,” a defender and protector of the earth. That implies also the protection and defense of the vulnerable because those who attack nature also imperil the marginalized people who for millennia have seen nature, like the prophets and psalmists of old, as alive, as a mother, as “Pacha Mama;” that is a s Mother Nature.

Just as the Coventry Carol can be used this Sunday astute pastors will include poetry and there are treasures of poetry that can be mined for quotations this day. I share two of my favorites, one by W H Auden and a short one from Pablo Neruda. Auden’s incredible statement about the possibility of contemplating the nativity scene, that which ancient poets and composers referred to as the Magnum Mysterium, that the first witnesses of the birth of Jesus would be animals, and realizing, at least for once in our lives, that everything is a You and nothing is an it, can be a truly transformative moment.

The Christmas Feast is already a fading memory,
And already the mind begins to be vaguely aware
Of an unpleasant whiff of apprehension at the thought
Of Lent and Good Friday which cannot, after all, now
Be very far off. But, for the time being, here we all are,
Back in the moderate Aristotelian city
Of darning and the Eight-Fifteen, where Euclid’s geometry
And Newton’s mechanics would account for our experience,
And the kitchen table exists because I scrub it.
It seems to have shrunk during the holidays. The streets
Are much narrower than we remembered; we had forgotten
The office was as depressing as this. To those who have seen
The Child, however dimly, however incredulously,
The Time Being is, in a sense, the most trying time of all.
For the innocent children who whispered so excitedly
Outside the locked door where they knew the presents to be
Grew up when it opened. Now, recollecting that moment
We can repress the joy, but the guilt remains conscious;
Remembering the stable where for once in our lives
Everything became a You and nothing was an It.

Neruda’s Keeping Quiet ends with a count to twelve which could be connected with the twelve days of Christmas. One way or the other the idea of stopping hyperactivity to realize that earth is alive is at the center of his message.

What I want should not be confused
with total inactivity.
Life is what it is about;
I want no truck with death.

If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves
and of threatening ourselves with death.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
as when everything seems dead
and later proves to be alive.

Now I’ll count up to twelve
and you keep quiet and I will go.